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Is Your Health Food Really Healthy?

By Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D., May/June 2008

6 healthy-sounding foods that really aren’t.

Energy Bars

Energy bars usually contain protein and fiber—nutrients that help you feel full—but also may be loaded with calories. That’s fine if you occasionally make one a meal, but most of us eat them as snacks. You might as well enjoy a Snickers, which at 280 calories is in the same range as many energy bars.

Lesson learned: If you need something to tide you over until dinner, look for a calorie-controlled bar with about 5 grams of protein (e.g., Balance 100-calorie bar, Promax 70-calorie bar).

Granola

Granola sounds healthy. But it’s often high in fat, sugar and calories. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly reasonable calorie count; portion sizes are usually a skimpy 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 cup. Low-fat versions often just swap sugar for fat and pack as many calories as regular versions.

Lesson learned: Read granola labels carefully and stick with recommended portion sizes (which are teeny), perhaps as a topping on fruit or yogurt.

Salads

“Salads trip up many of my clients,” says my friend Anne Daly, R.D., director of nutrition and diabetes education at the Springfield Diabetes & Endocrine Center in Springfield, Illinois. Most of us could use more vegetables—so what’s not to love? In a word, toppings. The pecans and Gorgonzola cheese on Panera Bread’s Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (580 calories, 30 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat) propel it into double-cheeseburger territory. A McDonald’s double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat.

Lesson learned: Before ordering a salad, check its nutrition information plus that of the dressing and all add-ons (often, they’re listed separately).



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